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‘We are here to ask that others respect our way of life’ Regarding the desecration of Mato Paha, Bear Butte

Guest columnist

Hau my relatives, friends and allies. Thank you for joining us today in the fight to protect Mato Paha and to support our right to continue conducting our cultural ceremonies here as we have since our ancestors emerged from Wind Cave in the Black Hills.

Mato Paha is a spiritual location, a place of reverence to more than 60 Indian nations who come here to offer prayers, to fast and to leave tobacco ties. We offer tobacco and ourselves because our bodies are all that we really have to give. We cleanse our minds and make our humble offerings. Some of our ceremonies may take up to four days and they require solitude and intense concentration.

For our people, He Sapa is “the heart of everything that is.” We are here to ask that others respect our way of life and our basic human rights, to be able to pray undisturbed in our holy places like Bear Butte.

Increased alcohol sales and the construction of a massive amphitheater blasting rock concerts while our people are praying is not only disrespectful, it is a violation of our right to conduct our spiritual practices with dignity.

This country, the United States of America, is legally bound to protect this human right – our right to carry out our spiritual practices with dignity and in peace.

This is already international law that reflects the obligation of the United States to respect and promote the right of religious freedom as a human right of Indian peoples.

The United Nations Human Rights Council just approved a Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It states that we have the right to carry out our spiritual practices – and to maintain, protect and continue to use our spiritual and cultural sites to pray, in privacy, like other people in this country are free to do.

This basic human right is being violated by the alcohol and concert hall developments taking place near the base of Bear Butte.

Enough is enough! Bear Butte, and the sacred teachings that the Creator gave to us, must be protected.

We are here today to call on the United States of America, the Department of the Interior, the State Department and the U.S. Congress to help us and to use their influence to stop this violation of our human rights.

We want the United States to fulfill its obligation to promote and protect these rights – particularly our rights as Indian people to continue our spiritual practices here at Bear Butte and to strengthen our ties to this land for our children.

We are calling on other Indian nations and peoples to speak out about the ongoing desecration of their sacred sites and to join us at Bear Butte for the Summit of Nations Aug. 1 – 4.

It is not happening just here. Desecration and destruction of our sacred sites are happening all over Indian county and our human rights as Native peoples are continually being violated.

The Keeper of the Pipe, Arvol Looking Horse, said we must protect Bear Butte in order to stop the cultural genocide that is still taking place after all these many years. It is not right to sacrifice the spiritual beliefs and way of life of indigenous people so that a handful of businesses can make money.

There are some things more important than money. We are asking for your support; to boycott the bars and the amphitheater’s loud music at a time we are fasting. We are asking you to write letters to Congress and the president demanding that our human rights be respected and that the United States vote in favor of the declaration.

Most of all, we are asking for your prayers and support to help us in the struggle for our rights, the protection of our cultures and our ancient way of life.

Alex White Plume is president of the Oglala Lakota Nation.